By Kevin Matthews
Third-year theatre arts student Jeremy Hanna began to grasp the Iraq-war experiences of the two soldiers he knows best, his sister and brother-in-law, during rehearsals for Under Fire: Stories of Combat Veterans Across Generations.
“My brother-in-law was a tank commander. He saw some things and went through some things that he really couldn’t explain, and he told it to me, but I couldn’t see it,” Hanna said. “I couldn’t really understand it the way he understood it, and doing this play helped me understand more what it would be like to be right there.”
The theatrical work by professor Michael Arndt combines video interviews of veterans, including CLU Vice President Bill Rosser, with actors’ interpretations of some of the same veterans’ words and stories. In the first public workshop reading on June 18 at Preus-Brandt Forum, six college actors, including CLU’s Hanna, Alex Colello ’11 and senior Brent Ramirez, played young incarnations of real U.S. soldiers from World War II and Vietnam. Future performances will include veterans of other wars, Arndt told the audience.
The actors watched their characters on video but never met them during just three rehearsals. Still, Colello got to know Rosey Nolan, a World War II parachutist nicknamed for his youthful looks.
“He just wanted to run around, have fun, have a good time and do the whole teen angst thing, but then [he was] thrust into this circumstance where you kind of have to grow up real quick,” Colello said.
The CLU actors had worked with Arndt on projects such as Shakespeare’s Pericles and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, but never anything this personal.
“Because he was so passionate about it, you wanted to be passionate about it, and you wanted to be the best you could be,” said Hanna.
From Arndt’s script, which was revised throughout rehearsals, the young actors gained a perspective on warfare and warriors that stands apart from politics.
“What’s important is that these soldiers are willing to do it. They’re not questioning it…,” said Colello, who is from Canada. “If nothing else, appreciate that. You don’t have to appreciate the war itself, but appreciate what people who are representative of your country are doing to try to help you.”